I love the whimsy of the universe. In November last year I began asking myself the question, “where am I stuck?” The question was posed by eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis in his brilliant audio book Through The Dark Wood. Nothing seemed to come to me except I began to find these little elastic hair bands that women use to tie back their hair in ponytails. It was weird; they seemed to be everywhere; I began to collect them; I sensed they must symbolize meaning of some kind but for the life of me I could not figure out what it was.
Eventually I got bored, I still noticed them but I let them lie. Then this morning, a beautiful sunny day, I noticed this particularly beautiful purple one glistening in the sun. It is my favourite colour and I don’t have one like it in my collection so I picked it up. I stared at it and asked myself what do these things actually do. The answer that popped in to my head was “control hair”.
I began to laugh, control has been the theme of my personal exploration since February – “how does my need to control impact my life?” I have written three blogs on the subject already and realize there are at least a couple more to pen. It began in Puerto Vallarta airport when I got really impatient in a protracted line up at the United Airlines check-in.
After I got home I realized that this impatience stemmed from loss of control. Since then I have had experiences to help me see the relationship between control and my compulsion to plan, between control and resistance and most recently control and my need to be right.
Last week during a conversation with a friend I noticed a reaction occur. We were having a disagreement and I felt energy in my body. I should know by now that this is a sign to go inward however I could not stop myself from arguing my point. In hindsight I noticed that I had been disparaging, dismissive and aggressive in my need to prove my point.
Finally after the heat of battle had diminished, I was able to ask myself the question about what was going on? The energy and the autonomous reaction suggested a complex had been triggered. I realized that she had inadvertently threatened the control I was exerting over a specific event in my life. My reaction was not only about the present; it was a charged message from history carrying its own energy or what C.G. Jung defined as a complex.
The root goes back a long way. Hollis would argue that all of us as children are faced with dealing with our inherent powerlessness in face of the world. We do our best to manage our overwhelment. There are three basic responses that can become ingrained: 1) Avoidance – to forget, suppress, repress, project onto to others, distract, disassociate. 2) Birth of power complex – we try and gain power over our environment. 3) Compliance. – To get along you go along. Being nice can become pathological.
I can see that at times that each of these can come into play. My need to control comes from the power complex. Exploring this has required me to unravel the first twenty-four years of my life.
I became independent at a very young age due to having three older siblings and two younger. I can still recall how free of interference my life was up until the age of six when something terrible happened. I was sent to school.
For the next twelve years I had very little control. In fact at the age of eleven my parents sent me to a boarding school that had much in common with a jail. Then after leaving my life became equally controlled at home by a dominating, religious father. My fear seemed to prevent me from leaving until I was twenty-one.
I went to Canada but never felt really in control of my life. It was not until I was in my mid twenties that life began to change. In hindsight I believe the combination of strict parental controls and the lack of social preparation at an all boys school severely impacted my growth and development until the age of twenty-four when finally I took control of my life.
Everything changed; I developed a new sense of confidence and freedom; my success in life began. It is not difficult to see why my need to control has been so dominant in my life.
My control was the secret to happiness and success however, underneath that control is a scared child in fear of being overwhelmed once again. My control helps me deal with uncertainty, anxiety and ambiguity. This is where the complex resides. Frequently I have no conscious sense of how I try to control my life. So when it is threatened my reactions are unconscious and those of a fearful child.
Listening recently to a lecture series that James Hollis conducted from his book What Matters Most, I heard these words, “Reflexive anxiety patterns are acquired because we had to cope. It is important not to judge them but we must become conscious of them.” “The present is sabotaged and undermined by the data and management systems of the past.”
He encourages us to ask the question whether it is acceptable to have life governed by the perceptions and strategies we needed to have a child. In my opinion it is understandable but not acceptable.
I sense that by becoming conscious of these patterns I begin to free myself from them. My journey is to maintain vigilance and continue my commitment to unravel my psychology. The words of St Francis interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky come to mind, “Darkness is an unlit wick; it just needs your touch Beloved, to become a sacred flame.”